IT WAS 70 years ago that two British war ships, sailing between Albania and Corfu, were illegally destroyed in a row that cost the lives of 44 seaman.

They were targeted by Albanians, who protested that the channel the ships were sailing down belonged to them and was not, as the British government claimed, international waters.

On October 22, 1944, it was decided the issue would be tested and two Royal Navy destroyers, HMS Saumarez and HMS Volage, were ordered to sail into the channel.

But Romsey man Bob Yeomans, who was a sailor on the Volage, said it did not go to plan.

The day before, Royal Navy personnel conducted a sweep of the channel to see if any objects were in the water that could proves hazardous to the ships; but nothing was discovered.

However, Albanian forces planted mines in the stretch of water following the naval sweep, with deadly intent.

"The British government thought they would test the problem and sail us through the channel to prove it was international waters," explained Bob, who is now 90-years-old.

"Just as we were passing the end of the north channel, the Saumarez blew up – they had hit a mine.

"It was horrendous; she went up with a big bang and there were bodies spewed everywhere. We honestly did not think it would happen."

Bob, who had also served in the Navy during the World War Two, added: "My ship, the Volage, then went in to help her.

"Then, as we were towing her out, the Volage struck a mine as well. The bowels of the ship, almost 40 feet-worth, was blow away and the ship started to break up.

"Seven seaman went down to the bowels to try and repair the damage, but part of the ship then just broke away and the men went down with it – their bodies were never recovered."

The attack, part of the Corfu Channel Incident which consists of three separate events, is considered by academics as an early episode of the Cold War.

The other two incidents involved British ships coming under fire from Albanian fortifications (before the October 22 attack) and the Royal Navy conducting mine-clearing operations in the Corfu Channel, but in Albanian territorial waters (after the attack) – the latter resulted in Albania making a complaints to the United Nations.

However, following the killings, the Albanian government was charged with murder and forced to pay £844,000 (£26.9m in today's money), but would not accept the International Court of Justice's ruling – known as the Corfu Channel Case.

As a result, the British froze their assests in the country. But, in 1991 an agreement was made between the two countries; only in 1996, following lengthy negotiations, was the seized gold finally returned to Albania after it agreed to pay $2,000,000 in delayed reparations.

Bob, who has partial face paralysis and hearing issues as a result of the incident, has been back to visit Corfu on a number of occasions to pay his respects to lost friends at the mass grave situated on the island.